Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Archive for December 8th, 2007

My heart in two places 15

Posted on December 08, 2007 by jimparedes

I believe places can speak to us and we have the equal ability to listen if we allow ourselves to. I have two homes where I live two lives. One, in the Philippines, and the other in Australia.

I was wondering when it would happen until it finally did. I’m talking about Australia speaking to me, not unlike the way my own country does. And the few times it did, I smiled to myself knowing that the process of my integration into Aussie life had begun.

Wherever we are, we engage life. New migrants, especially, have this ongoing conversation with the host country. It’s a constant dialogue, an assessing and reassessing of how one is faring in the new setting.

I do the same when I am in Aus. It’s my way of processing new experiences, and it is all part of my assimilation to life there. My life as a migrant in Australia is growing roots in all aspects.

We moved to Sydney almost a year and a half ago. Since then, we have settled quite well in our own home. We have performed all the requisites that go with being a permanent resident. We got our drivers’ licenses, opened bank accounts, met and nurtured new circles of friends. I have one daughter and a grand daughter who are still in Manila by choice, but who will move back to Sydney permanently in a few years. Another daughter is happily working in Sydney. My son has not only finished high school but has excelled enough to have his artworks handpicked for exhibition in an art museum.

Lydia has adapted to Sydney living quite well. She knows the roads and thoroughfares, where to go for this and that, like the palm of her hand. She is also an expert in running the house, keeping the place tidy, paying the bills, and doing what makes our life in Aus easier and more elegant.

Since I have been traveling in and out of Sydney and have not spent long stretches of time at home, my process has been slower. I still need to be reminded where certain places in the city and suburbs are, how things are done and even how things run around the house. But I eagerly and quite fearlessly do what needs to be done.

I must admit that though it is happening less often, once in a while, I still get that alien feeling when I go about doing ordinary things like shopping or even engaging in chitchat with strangers. For one, I still have trouble with the Australian accent. While I can understand newscasters and politicians who make it a point to speak extra clearly, I am befuddled by the average bloke (guy) or sheila (girl) who seem, to me at least, to be eating their words.

As if that wasn’t difficult enough, there is also the unique Aussie vocabulary that one must contend with. Their penchant for contracting words in their own way like “brekkie” for breakfast, “relo” for relatives is entertaining but it can be quite alienating. They also have their own words that sound alien to other English-speakers, like “arvo” (afternoon), and “spruiking” (to promote something). The list is endless.

The first time I felt a strong connection to Aus since we moved was during the Australia Day celebrations last January 26. Lydia and I attended this huge event at Darling Harbor, and I was quite surprised to catch myself entirely moved by the ceremonies, and impressed by the way the Aussies felt unabashed pride at being who they are.

There was a moment in the program when the big TV monitors showed migrants talking about how they have adopted Australia as their home and it was quite powerful. I felt a lump in my throat as I resonated with the testimonies of the fulfilled promises as expressed by fellow migrants from all over the world about their new home. At the same time, I was lost in ambivalence since the Pinoy in me was weeping for the failed promises of the two EDSAs we fought so hard for.

But the feelings of pride and belonging, as powerful as they are, were understandable. All the emotions created by the elaborate preparations for Australia day, not unlike the way, say, Disneyland can induce a thrill, was the effect the organizers were going for. While I was in awe of it, I still did not feel quite integrated into Aussie life.

But about four weeks ago, I was caught by surprise when something trivial triggered a strong emotional response in me. I was riveted by a commercial on TV that had a Christmas theme. It gave me an unexpected warm feeling. No, it did not bring up images of Christmas at home. Far from it. What it elicited was THE universal Christmas feeling, but rooted somewhat in the context of Aussie life and culture. It seemed to just creep up on me and I caught myself getting teary-eyed. I remember telling Lydia at that moment that I felt a connection to the ad somehow, in spite of the fact that the people in it were white and spoke in their strange accents.

Somehow, the ad had a universal appeal that made the “them versus us” feeling a migrant often gets, fade away — for that instant, at least. It spoke to me in an intimate way that transcended my being Filipino. I felt this wonderful comfort, a feeling of fraternity, brotherhood and belonging that was, strangely enough, brought about by an ad for a department store.

Before we migrated, I asked my family over dinner to name at least 10 famous Aussies. Sadly, aside from ex-PM John Howard, we could only name Nicole Kidman and a few other actors and musicians. I imagined then it would be a long way before Aus would feel like home.

But I am becoming more and more comfortable with my life is Aus. I am beginning to trust my instincts as I feel more “in” on the different aspects of Aussie life. I successfully predicted the outcome of the last elections. I somehow caught the political zeitgeist that many of my friends missed even if they had been living there longer. I have more confidence now in the decisions I make since I am beginning to get the pattern of how things work in this orderly society.

When a migrant listens and understands and gets to know the host country more, his previously held, mostly inherited notions of the country and its people melt away, and newer, more personal, real impressions take their place. One moves out of stereotypical thinking and experiences things in a fresh way. Other people are no longer caricatures. They become flesh and blood.

We know we’ve transcended our biases when we get over our fixed and rigid notions and give something that used to threaten our equanimity a chance. This new take on things could only happen when I accepted where I live. When I am in Sydney, I tell myself that this is my here and now. While earlier, it used to take an effort to do that since I was always comparing my life there to my previous life in the Philippines; lately, I have begun to do so without resistance.

Now I am back in Manila for a few weeks. I have been applying this fresh stance at everything I have seen since I arrived a few days ago, especially since that recent silly coup attempt that has once again made us look bad to the world, and even to ourselves.

My being a resident of both Manila and Sydney is like having two girlfriends. Both of them can be fun, yet moody and even downright depressing at times. But they have their individual charms as well. While Manila may be melodramatic and tragic more often because of its hosts of problems, it IS still home with its warmth and exploding gaiety, especially at Christmas time. Sydney may be dazzlingly beautiful and orderly, but it can leave me cold at times because all that order can feel so alien to my Pinoy soul.

But I am glad that neither of them is asking just yet for exclusivity. And that’s just the way I like it.

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